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This Is Why Scientists Are Tracking Your Movements Through National Parks

by Alex Scola Jun 22, 2015

In the endless battle to maintain relevance, the National Park Service still has a few tricks up its sleeve for prying people away from their screens, and getting them back out into nature. And unlike the social Find Your Park initiative that launched earlier this year, this new one is backed by science.

How many times has this happened to you?

You go to visit a National park (having romanticized your day in the great outdoors) expecting:

But when you get there, you find this:

Day. Ruined.

If you find a huge crowd marring your view of the horizon a huge turnoff, you’re not alone.

And the National Park Service is doing everything it can to give you back that alone-with-nature experience touted on every brochure and National Park advertisement, ever.

Since 2013, the National Park Service has been circulating questionnaires and tagging visitor volunteers with GPS beacons to gather data on the flow (or lack thereof) of people through the nation’s beloved parks.

Visitors were asked what they wanted out of their day at the park. Were they coming for “opportunities for solitude? Time with family? Exercise?” Perhaps something else altogether? When commenting on the process, Penn State professor and recreation specialist Peter Newman told Mashable, “People love their parks,they love to answer questions and know that their voice is being heard in some way.”

So far, they’ve gathered data on the routes visitors took through Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, California’s Yosemite National Park, and Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

Data revealing which trails were the most popular among park visitors, where those visitors rested along the trails, where the paths became congested, and where individuals broke from the trails to catch a little “alone time.”

The NPS hopes to use this data to make decisions about the placement of new ‘parking areas, restrooms and multipurpose trails,’ as well as enhancing the shuttle systems to and from the most popular spots in the parks.

“It’s getting people to the right place at the right time, so they have a better experience while they’re at the park,” former Utah State associate professor Kevin Heaslip told Mashable.

Ultimately, the National Park Service hopes this move will help make parks more appealing to millennials and the younger generation — by ensuring that the next generation of visitors get out of their “visit to the park” what they came for.

What do you think about this new initiative? Do you think it’s what the National Parks have been sorely missing, or is it a little creepy? Do you think it’ll help folks achieve a more authentic park-going experience, or are you wary that the NPS may end up manufacturing that experience in the process?

Sound off in the comments!

h/t: Mashable

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